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Rohit Dhankar

JNU, true to its reputation, has started retaliation to the narrow definition of nation and nationalism through a series of lectures. I have listened carefully to only one of them, by Professor Nivedita Menon. And that gives me an idea that these lectures should be carefully listened to, analyzed, appreciated and critiqued.  However, in this article I am not analyzing Professor Menon’s lecture in full, actually I am not analyzing it at all; am just using some ideas expressed in it on Kashmir and focusing my attention on legitimacy or otherwise of its accession to India.

But before I come to that let me start with an interesting and very timely quote from Ernest Renan by the learned professor: “nation is a daily plebiscite”. This is somewhat of a misquote as we will see just now, but in the right spirit. Renan it seems delivered a conference lecture in 1882 in which he made this statement. In this lecture he analyses formation of nations in Europe and traverses ancient history in this analysis. The paragraph in which the above quote occurs is worth reading in some more detail, he says: A nation is therefore a great solidarity constituted by the feeling of sacrifices made and those that one is still disposed to make. It presupposes a past but is reiterated in the present by a tangible fact: consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is (please excuse the metaphor) a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. Yes, I know, that is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so-called law of history. In the scheme of ideas with which I present you, a nation has no more right than a king to say to a province: “You belong to me, I am taking you.” For us, a province is its inhabitants and, if anyone in this affair has the right to be consulted, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has a true interest in annexing or holding territory that does not wish to be annexed or held. The vow of nations is the sole legitimate criterion and that to which it is necessary to constantly return.”

We will come back to parts of this paragraph but let is note at this juncture that according to Renan here “A nation’s existence is (please excuse the metaphor) a daily plebiscite”, not “the nation” and he is calling it a metaphor. Let us accept this metaphorical and very just basis for the existence of a nation, that reminds us of expressed desire of its people to continue a common life. If the existence of India as a nation in this sense is a ‘daily plebiscite’ then all education in general and the JNU nationalism lecture series in particular are ‘referendum meetings’, to continue the metaphor. The BJP rhetoric and media transmissions, however unpalatable, are means of forming public opinion on the same issue. Thus we are constantly engaged in a debate which decides the opinion of the Indian population on what the Indian nation is, what it ought to be and how to realise that.

Some views on the Kashmir issue

This article should be seen in the same light; as a challenge, however feeble and uneducated, to one of the views expressed in this lecture by Professor Menon. She makes a few points in her lecture which could be summarised as follows:

  1. Junagarh’s king was a Muslim who wanted accession to Pakistan, but majority population was Hindu who wanted to be in India. The principle of majority population was followed. But in Kashmir the king was Hindu and majority population was Muslim, the same principle of majority population was not followed in Kashmir.
  2. Kashmir’s accession to India had the condition of plebiscite, which was never carried out.
  3. The whole world believes that Kashmir is illegally occupied by India. India is known in this matter world over as an imperialist nation, therefore freedom for Kashmir is a justified slogan.

These views are not unique to Prof. Menon’s lecture. There seems to be a video by the great Indian intellectual Ms. Arundhati Roy in which she claims that Kashmir was never a part of India.

In this connection it is important to listen to Umar Khalid, by now famous for the 9th February JNU meeting and its aftermath. He on 9th February tells media: this “… programme is basically about against the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian state and I make it very apparent here that I am not from Kashmir I believe that what is happening in Kashmir is an Indian occupation of Kashmir. Just like one territory is occupied by Pakistan another territory is occupied by the Indian state. And if you see Nehru’s words in 1947 was very clear that Kashmir will be given a plebiscite, it has been over seven decades, where is that promised plebiscite. And to speak about I mean internationally the right to self-determination is an international recognized democratic right.”

To understand this ideological position we should also pay attention to Mr. Khalid’s statement when he resurfaced after 10 days in hiding. With many atrocities by Indian state in very recent times he also notes that three young men were killed in Kashmir. Obviously he refers to the Pompore terrorist attack in which 6 security personal were also killed, and the terrorist were hailed as brave solders by Pakistani terrorist outfits as well as from a mosque in Kashmir. This expresses his stand on the Kashmir terrorism and the attempt of Indian forced to stem it.

In the same speech his ideological position becomes clear when he explains his stand on the anti-India slogans in JNU on 9th February. What I write below is a rough transcript of part of Mr. Khalid’s speech, and not his words verbatim; but I took care to be accurate in terms of meaning. About the slogans he says that there were some slogans “जो शायद हमारे नारे नहीं हैं, हमारा नारा right to self-determination का है. उन नारों में जो छोटी सी दिक्कत मैं देखता हूँ तो इतनी देखता हूँ when we are trying to enter into a dialogue with Indian population … quote-unquote “Indian population”, when I say …  because … I will come to it later. कहीं न कहीं हम उस जनता को antagonize करते हैं. आप जिस जनता से बात करना चाहते हैं वही antagonize होती है. But the onus is also on us to understand why this why this anger … I am not justifying anything. At the end I would like to say … … I don’t believe in any nationalism, I don’t believe in Indian nationalism, I don’t believe in American nationalism, I don’t believe in any nationalism. I dream of a world without nationalism, I dream of a world without borders, and my friends and comrades let’s imagine that world, that world is possible, and it is up to us to create that world, it is up to us, and it is our responsibility, and history will judge how much we stood the test of times in this difficult time today.”

Both Prof. Menon and Mr. Khalid get a huge applause on their statements I have mentioned above. Which means that these views are widely shared and appreciated in JNU, and among the intellectuals in India. No, don’t jump to conclusions, I am not calling them or any one in JNU anti-nationals. Actually I appreciate many of the ideas expressed in these statements; for example a constant building of opinion on nationalism, a continuously examined dynamically defined nation, and a world without borders. These are admirable thoughts, any one would appreciate them.

But I would like to examine their position on Kashmir rather closely from four angles: historical, legal, moral and pragmatic. Unfortunately I am an expert in none of these aspects or on nationalism. But am writing this simply because the current jingoistic mindless nationalistic rhetoric on one side and disdainful rejection of the idea of nation, nationalism and patriotism on the other is confusing a common man no end. All I am doing in this article is trying to make sense of all this and to take as informed position as possible for a non-expert, for a common citizen.

The historical angle

This is common to hear that the idea of India is as recent as of nineteenth century. And I have already mentioned above Ms. Roy’s claim that Kashmir was never a part of India. It is not of paramount importance that the territory called India today should have been established in great antiquity. However, one aspects of a nation-state is certainly territorial demarcation and integrity; and the idea of a nation “presupposes a past” as Renan puts it.

Professor Irfan Habib in his lecture to Aligarh Muslim University students on 26th October 2015 states: The first perception of the whole of India as a country comes with the Mauryan Empire. … the inscriptions of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka range from Kandahar and north of Kabul to Karnataka and Andhra and they are in Prakrit, Greek and Aramaic. So it was with such political unity that the concept of India came, and its first name was Jambudvipa a name which Ashoka uses in his Minor Rock Edict-1, … The term Bharata was also used in Prakrit in an inscription in Orissa, at Hathigumpha, of the Kalinga ruler, Kharavela in 1st century BC; that is the first instance of the use of Bharat, and Kharavela uses it for the whole of India. So, gradually the concept of India as a country began to arise and a cultural unity was also seen within it as religions like Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism spread to all parts of the country. Prakrit was spoken, at least literary Prakrit, all over the country, becoming its lingua franca. So, there were things which, as people could see, united us.”

He goes on to explicitly refute Perry Anderson: “I say all this because it means that the concept of India as a country was ancient, the assertion made by Perry Anderson in his book The Indian Ideology that the India is a name given by foreigners particularly Europeans in modern times, is a totally misleading statement.”

However, the idea of love for the country or patriotism came much later according to Prof. Habib. “True, there was a conception of India in ancient times, even before Christ, but when was there a conception of love for India i.e. patriotism?” he asks. And his answer is that “The first patriotic poem in which India is praised, India is loved, Indians are acclaimed is Amir Khusrau’s long poem in his Nuh Sipihir written in 1318.”

But that makes only a country, not a nation of free citizens. That according to Prof. Babib came during the freedom movement when the aspirations and wellbeing of the masses became a deep concern and were made part of the freedom movement. And later on enshrined in the Constitution of India.

In this background one has to ask what do people who agree with Ms. Roy that Kashmir was never a part of India mean. It certainly was a part of the historical conception of the country now we call India. And any ways, why does one rake that up? Does inclusion region in historical idea of a country give legitimacy to inclusion it today? If so, whole of Pakistan was part of idea of India as a country. What do we say about it? It is a useless rhetorical pronouncement then, design to suggest that India has no business including Kashmir in its territory.

Is Kashmir illegally occupied by India?

Prof. Menon claims that the world believes that, perhaps with a hint that so should we. One, does the “whole world” really believe that? What is the evidence? Of her “whole world” is confined to a few countries and territories alone? Even if the whole world believes that does it make the claim true? Should India take that claim to be true, and therefore, believe in it too? I see no reason to do so.

Mr. Khalid equates Pakistan and India in this matter. He says that one part of the territory is occupied by Pakistan and in the same manner another part is occupied by India. How true is that? Since we are talking of legal status first let us confine ourselves only to examine that only. I tried to look at the history of Kashmir’s accession to India and the UN resolutions concerned with it.

When India achieved independence there was a powerful movement in Kashmir led by Shaikh Abdullah, and the main point in the movement seems to be that of self-determination of Kashmiri people. The accession to India was delayed for this and other reasons. Then Pakistan attacked to forcefully annex it. That was the time when the Instrument of Accession was signed by the then Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir; who did have the legal authority to do so. So one wonders in what sense it could be called illegal? The Junagarh example of going to Pakistan or India according to the majority population is rather spacious. The majority of Kashmiri people in spite of being Muslims were not interested in going to Pakistan. They perhaps wanted to be an independent nation.

Both Prof. Menon and Mr. Khalid mention plebiscite and accuse India of denying plebiscite to the Kashmiri people. Of course India agreed for plebiscite in the UN. But it becomes clear to anyone who reads the UN resolution of 13th August 1948 that the plebiscite was to be held when the Pakistani forces and nationals had withdrawn from the whole of Kashmir, and India was supposed to keep minimum forces to keep law and order. The Indian forces were to remain in Kashmir when the Pakistani forces and nationals were withdrawn. Pakistan never fulfilled this condition and the UN was never strong and unanimous enough to force Pakistan to obey. Therefore, blaming India for not holding plebiscite is rather unfair.

One wonders on grounds Prof. Menon tells us that Kashmir is illegally occupied by India. Is Pakistan in a similar legal position to occupy Kashmir territory? Is there an instrument of accession with them? Is there any UN resolution that support their right to occupy? Is calling Indian position illegal are they being unreasonable and biased? Are they speaking against national interest? (I am not calling them antinational, all I am asking is is their position against the national interest?)

One can build an argument that the right to self-determination of a people is internationally accepted right, therefore, by not allowing Kashmiri people that right Indian occupation is illegal, even if not illegal from the point of instrument of accession and UN resolutions. But right to self-determination is a right of process and not of outcome. And the process requires conditions under which that right could be exercised. Those conditions are such that India alone cannot create them. And by now, due to heavy and completely illegal violent interference of Pakistan in the Kashmir the situation is made completely intractable. This argument of self-determination will cut legal ice only with those who are ideologically already committed to it. a common Indian will require more persuasion on better arguments.

The moral considerations

But perhaps the quote “a nation’s existence is a daily plebiscite” indicates to a moral position rather than to a legal one. So even if India has a legal right to consider Kashmir it’s integral part that does not prove that it also has a moral defence for that.

When one talks of right to self-determination in Kashmir what does it mean? What is the section of population this right is asked for? Self-determination may mean forming their own government within the Indian Union, which they already have. The last government was formed with majority, and the voter turnout was 65%. Was not it an expression of self-determination in this sense?

The right to self-determination can also be interpreted as right for a sovereign state, independent of India. Moral decisions of this nature always involve dilemmas. They involve more than one values, their respective force and prioritization. Another consideration in moral issue will be the morality of the aspiration and means employed by the other party to achieve those aspirations. The first thing to note, that the supporters of so-called Kashmir cause never do, is that the terrorist movement in Kashmir today is supported and guided by Pakistan. One does not know at this moment what part of it is the movement of Kashmiri people and what part is Pakistani movement. The movement might have been purely political in the beginning, but now it is also a religious separatist movement. The ethnic cleansing of Hindus is the valley cannot be brushed under the carpet. Therefore, when one argues for a moral position of self-determination of Kashmiris one is asking India to take a moral position in the face of a morally tinged violent struggle.

Furthermore, who are these people who want azadi in Kashmir? One does not have to study much to come to the conclusion that only Muslims do, at least now, even if the situation was different earlier. Even among the Muslims there is a view that only a minority want to secede from India. The slightly above 31% Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians do not want to separate from India. According to one view Shias have resisted separatist movement. Now the problem is that India has a moral responsibility towards the non-Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir. The behaviour of the majority in valley has shown beyond doubt what will be the fate of this population if entire Jammu and Kashmir becomes a sovereign nation. The story of Pakistan and Bangladesh and the decreasing population of Hindus there shows the character of Indian subcontinent in this regard. Would it be morally justified for the Indian nation to abandon these 31% people? Or to displace them? Do they have any rights? If one thinks of separating only the valley, and the referendum is conducted only there; are we again endorsing the two nation theory? Is two nation theory morally justified?

The moral stand to consider Kashmir an integral part of India may not be that unambiguous, but neither is it totally unjustified; nor the opposite stand is morally justifiable.

The pragmatic considerations

We have already strayed into some of the pragmatic considerations while considering the moral issue. But the separation of Kashmir, be that the valley alone or the entire state of J&K, is bound to have very serious repercussions in the rest of India. When we talk of giving right to self-determination to Kashmiris we forget that India was divided in 1947 on the basis of religion. Now again the only Muslim majority state of India gets separated; and again on the basis of religion—whether the political pandits accept it or not. What conclusion the majority Hindu population should draw from this? Should the fraternity enshrined in the preamble of constitution be extended to the people who oppose separation of Kashmir as well, shoukd they too be understood? What would be the status of Muslims in the remaining of India? Will India remain secular? Actually, in such a situation, should India remain secular?

It seems the kind of position outlined above is untenable form all points of view. India is not an illegal occupier in Kashmir. Right to self-determination cannot be implemented at this moment. There is no grounds to accuse India of immoral occupation in Kashmir and India cannot be equated with Pakistan in this matter. Those who take this position and those who applaud them are going much beyond humanitarian consideration and upholding rights of populations; they are acting against the pragmatic interest of India, against its legally justified position and against its morally defendable position. And still they are free to discuss all this in India and are within their rights to do so as Indian citizens.

The rhetoric and its harms

Prof. Menon towards the end of her lecture makes a point that people who demand their rights are considered anti-national. According to her the north-east, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, women against patriarchy, people against land acquisition and so on are considered anti-national. And at the end about 25 people Amit Shah, Narendra Modi, Smriti Irani and 22 lawyer goons of Patiala House Court are the only nationalist people. This is a clever rhetoric and it is not as benign as it looks. It first asserts that anyone who does not accept her idea of nation as daily plebiscite is with the Patiala house court lawyers and BJP. And according to her they are in a miserable minority. Therefore, if you raise a question on this idea of nation then you are just like those goons; or at the best like Bajrangis. This sounds like an election rhetoric now. Election rhetoric of an ideology which has interpreted the idea of “existence of nation as a daily plebiscite” to mean an occasion, not of strengthening the nation daily through extending justice and winning people over, but as a principle to attack the nation daily to dismantle it. But there are a majority of Indian who are not jingoistic and mindless like the ABVP, the two BJP MLAs and those lawyers; and still cherish the idea of Indian nation in spite of its weaknesses and without being disdainful to it. The torch bearers of this ideology forget that in painting this picture they are insulting the silent majority.

The constitution that promises us justice, liberty and equality also wants us to promote fraternity and safeguard the unity and integrity of the nation. It is a package deal; you cannot pick what you want and look disdainfully at the rest. It is worthwhile here to have a look at some of the fundamental duties listed in the constitution. “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India—

(a) to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;

(b) to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;

(c) to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;

(d) to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;

(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.”

As one can see it includes respect for the constitutional institutions that includes the Parliament and the Supreme Court. To uphold and defend the unity and integrity of India, to defend the country. And to promote harmony.

Now, the rulers of the nation in last 68 years have repeatedly and miserably failed to provide justice, equality, liberty and dignity to all its citizens. There have been injustice, curtailment of freedoms and denial of equality. The question however is: as a responsible citizen should one become disdainful of this nation or should one be pained and try to improve the situation? Debates and discussion and lectures that are going on in JNU certainly are ways of improvement through creating public opinion and awareness. Even the speeches like Mr. Khalid’s fall in the category of attempts to understand and improve the situation. But does shouting of slogans of barbadi and war till Kashmir is free fall in the category of debates and discussions? Is the slogan of “Kashmir ki azaadi tak jang rahegi” an argument in a discussion?

I might be wrong but it sounds more like declaration of staunch support to the violent war that is being waged against India with abetment and help from a foreign power. The metaphor of “existence of the nation as a daily plebiscite” allows for debate and forming opinion through it; both for and against the integrity of the nation. The plebiscite is expressed in the amendments that are allowed in the constitution. But does this preparation for plebiscite also include “daily declaration of war”? To understand the metaphor let’s look at the election speeches. In elections one is allowed to argue against positions and parties. But is one allowed to make hate speeches? As far as I know, no. The slogans that pledge war till India’s destruction in this daily plebiscite are like hate speeches. There is a difference between debate and war cries; and when we condone war cries in the name of debate and free speech we are favouring defeat for the nation in the metaphorical daily plebiscite.

The people who do not believe in Indian nationality and do not recognise Indian nation state but want to talk to the “Indian population” have already pronounced their judgment for India. I wonder how many in the Indian population would like to talk to them on these conditions; and why should they if they still believe in the Indian nation state? And the same people who when feel in danger from that Indian population appeal to the same Indian state which they do not recognise and by pass completely in their direct dialogue with that very Indian population! That should be enough to show the unviability of such a theoretical position.

At the end may I remind the learned people that the man who called “A nation’s existence is … a daily plebiscite” was wise enough to admit that “At the present moment, the existence of nations is a good and even necessary thing. Their existence is the guarantee of liberty, a liberty that would be lost if the world had only one law and one master.” I see no signs of human beings having become wiser and more ethical in the last about 134 years after Renan delivered this lecture. Mr. Tahagata Satpathi was right when he said that modern human intellect has as yet not evolved a better system of governance than democracy so far. Those who are impatient with democracy and dream of a world without nationalities should be wise enough and work tirelessly to create that world; and refrain from declaring war on what we have today, even if it is not perfect. There is a difference between improving democracy through peaceful development of human understanding and morality and supporting its destruction. Mr. Satpathi is also right when he says that an attitude of anti-India is being bred and applauded in our universities. We have to make a difference between denouncing and resisting the government, and building arguments for encouraging or acceptability of such anti-India sentiments. Let us not forget the difference between the government of the day and the nation.

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